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Arts:Blog

Theatre Review: Hamlet ****

Scott Purvis reviews 'a uniformly strong, sharply directed' production of the classic play.

Hamlet has been putting on his "antic disposition" for over four hundred years now and still the young Danish prince is reinventing himself.

Here, Bard in the Botanics’ director Gordon Barr has gender-swapped the piece, casting the perennially excellent Nicole Cooper as an arrogant and manipulative Hamlet for our time, a dress-wearing, gun-brandishing spit in the face of primogeniture. "Frailty, thy name is woman," apparently. Not here, Shakespeare - this is a uniformly strong, sharply directed and in moments stylish performance which puts women at its heart.

These summery thespians have carved themselves a fine company from the oaks of the Botanics. Nicole Cooper finds the wiliness and the pain in Hamlet, carefully walking the fine line between madness and sanity like a blindfolded man traversing across a floor littered with Lego. She bites at Stephanie McGregor's endearingly tragic Ophelia, stonewalling her to piteous little soul. Ophelia's descent into madness unfolds with the slowness and tenderness of a new daisy's petals, and McGregor's quiet execution of her final moments is truly heart-breaking.

The tragedy of such scenes has a big toothy clown smile painted on a by Alan Steele's Polonius, a Yes, Minister style foil to the workings of the Danish court and a benevolent auld fishwife. Lightened by such moments, the pace of the three-hour play becomes quick, its black humour played like "The Final Countdown" at a funeral, allowing the chemistry between the cast bubbles. Helen Logan and Alan J Mirren, too, play the Game of Thrones well, roundly portraying Gertrude and Claudius' grab for power as an act of survival, not simple selfishness.

The most wonderful thing about Bard at the Botanics is that the gardens themselves become a character, almost directing the soundscape and atmosphere of the piece-–gentle Glasgow winds stir the ramparts of an ancient Danish castle as a slain ghost walks at midnight; the grey Scottish skies cloud over in terrible judgement of Claudius as he confesses the fratricidal regicide. Even distant crows seem hungry to hear Hamlet's bodily descriptions of the decay of the Polonius' body.

The intimacy and simplicity of the piece's staging gives the four-hundred year old an endearing immediacy, finding its form in an environment that smells of the flowers that floated on Ophelia's watery grave. This is one of the best Bard in the Botanics productions of recent years and well worth a Waitrose picnic on a damp night.

Run ended.

Tags: theatre

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